MIFF 2012: Berberian Sound Studio
August 21st 2012 03:19
Three years ago British director Peter Strickland made a huge impression on the festival circuit with his startling Romanian-set revenge drama debut, Katalin Varga (2009), a film I adored. For his follow-up he takes us to Italy with a sound technician, Gilderoy (a perfectly cast Toby Jones) hired by a local producer to work on his gory and pretentious sub-Argento giallo film, The Equestrian Vortex (the opening credits of which brilliantly substitute for the film proper).
From the outset it’s clear that Gilderoy is a classically defined fish-out-of-water, uncomfortably merging into a difficult, possibly untenable working environment. Portentous clues suggestive of things not all being well begin to engage his thoughts as his outsider status is enhanced against a backdrop of peculiar blackouts, the giallo director’s awful dialogue and scream queens getting down to business in the recording booth.
There’s no escaping the fact that the escalation of bizarre abstractions that contort the story into a disintegrating, interweaving behemoth will be alienating to many. Quickly, and unnervingly, Gilderoy’s perceptions begin to merge with the acutely manipulated sounds, sights and non-linear strands of Strickland’s narrative. Are any of the increasingly weird occurrences real? Are they emblematic of Gilderoy’s mental deterioration or is he just a pawn in some nasty game, as hinted at in brief dialogue exchanges with various characters, and that reflects the nature of the film he’s working on?
There are no solutions, simple or otherwise, to appease us here. Berberian Sound Studio (2012) reflects possibly multiple versions of reality blurring into a realm of speculative storytelling that, artfully composed, defies logic, reason and other generally useless parameters of critical assessment. The lack of a resolution or explanation will frustrate many but like any daringly original work of art, the film doesn’t necessarily need to make sense; in fact, to fulfil a higher artistic purpose it’s sometimes preferable that it resolutely refuses to do so, allowing intrigue and ambiguity to fester with malicious glee. Strickland’s film has been masterfully wrought, providing an intoxicating sensory overload that compels as it confuses and strikes awe even as it rapidly descends down a terrifying well of darkest imaginings. Future cult status is assured.
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